Saturday, February 27, 2010

He's Home

On Thursday I shared that one of my clients was desperately seeking the return of her grandson.  Many thanks to all who held our client and her grandson in your thoughts and prayers.  The boy has been returned to the safety of his grandmother's home.  We can rest a bit easier tonight.

11 Alive News Link

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Personal Side of Law

Please welcome guest blogger, Stephanie Steele.  Stephanie is Supervising Attorney for The Manely Firm, PC in Gwinnett County.  Her office is located in Lawrenceville, Georgia.  Stephanie handles all aspects of family law and has developed special expertise in adoption law.

Recently, someone came to my office and wanted to understand his options about adopting a little girl from his relative.  I explained the overall legal process, detailed what we must show the court to be successful and discussed the financial aspects of such a case.

We explored the possibility of the mother consenting to the adoption.  At that point, the man looked at me and earnestly asked, “How do I approach her about giving up all her rights to this beautiful child?  What do I say?”

Being an attorney is not just about knowing the law and how it applies.  Being an attorney is also about knowing and understanding people.

There were a number of strategies that came to mind, but in that moment, what I saw and felt most was the desire of this man to take care of a child who needs someone to care for her.

Although some think of law as a cold, unfeeling set of rules, I see the law as a tool for helping people in a very real way.  I see my job as much more than explaining or using rules in a dispassionate manner.  I see each case as a unique opportunity to help make the world a better place, one child and one family at a time.

Sometimes what is ‘right’ and ‘just’ and ‘better’ is unclear, but thinking about transitioning from here and now to where you want you and your family to be clarifies things.  Caring about your family, expeditiously cutting to the core of the matter and resolving your case in a way the helps you and your family move through the here and now to the next part of your lives is the guiding principle for how we handle cases.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The media and one little boy

It's late.  It's very late.  And I'm fairly exhausted.

I've spent the better part of the day working on a case that, thankfully, the news stations have picked up.

A father lied to the Court to get custody of his son.  When the Court found out, it revoked his custody, reverting custody to the Grandmother, my client.

The father is now running with the boy.  Given the father's past, he is considered armed and dangerous.

Lying to the Court is not the father's only issue, as you can well imagine.

So, three television stations have picked up the story for their news.  Tonight, 11 Alive interviewed the Grandmother and me for the nightly news.

The more publicity this case can get, the longer it will stay in the public eye.  The longer in the public eye, the sooner the father is caught and the boy is returned to the Grandmother's home where, for the first time in a very long time, he was begining to feel safe before being seized by the father.

Hold this little, seven year old boy close in your hearts.  He needs your well wishes now.  He's going to need a lot of his Grandmother's love when we get him home.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's all about the Judge

I guess this is a rant.

It is imperative to know that for all the pain, strife, suffering, indignity, humiliation and general bad times you have experienced in your now concluding marriage, your experience ranks second in importance in divorce court.

And no, your spouse's experience does not rank first.

The judge ranks first.

One of the hardest paradigm shifts for clients is moving from a subjective perception to an objective one.  The objective one is simple though: how will the judge look at this?

Absent a settlement (always a good idea if one is possible), the judge makes the decisions in divorce.  It is possible to ask that a jury make some decisions but that is a distraction from this point for now.  Because the judge makes the decision, how the judge perceives events is all that matters in divorce court.

Judge's won't do what you want.  That's not their job.  Their job is to listen as long as they have allowed to the salient issues necessary to separate assets and debts.  When necessary they make decisions about alimony, still mostly a financial consideration, and custody, which is a bit more keyed to custodial issues than whether your spouse refused to carry out the trash or have dinner ready when you got home. 

My job is to translate all that is personal and painful, helpful and hopeful from your life into almost soundbites that boil down your situation into information the judge needs to hear.  It is a hard paradigm shift to make, but it has to be made before expectations yield demands to the bench which alienate the judge and greatly prejudice the case.  Translated:  don't tell the judge what they have to do because it will make them angry and hurt your case.

The good family lawyer is an excellent translator.  Know that we care and care deeply.  Know that we get it.  But know also that we know the judge and know that the judge has a thousand other cases with no end in sight, so their focus is different than yours.

Yep, it's a rant. 

Let us help you to help yourself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hearing Voices

Joe Stack is the latest husband gone mad.  He's the guy who flew his plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas.  Apparently he burned down his house first.  Reports have it that his wife took her daughter to a motel the night before so that they could be safe.

Stack lost control.  He's not the first; he won't be the last.  His loss of control was particularly newsworthy, but many spouses lose control in less spectacular ways.

From time to time, a client will tell me that their spouse is crazed.  My first job is to determine the accuracy of that characterization.  Is this just an angry spouse talking or is there some substance there.  If my client tells me, "he's crazy because he doesn't discipline our child," I'm thinking he's not crazy, he just has a different standard.  If my client tells me, "he's crazy because he hears voices and calls me up from work in the middle of the day, crying on the phone when he doesn't know why," I'm thinking there's probably something there.

I'll try to get as many specifics as possible.  Not just, does he suffer from mood swings, but are they dramatic?  What does he do when he goes through mood swings?    How do you know that he hears voices? What voices does he hear?  What do those voices tell him? 

When I'm satisfied that there's something there, my job is to get my client ready to explain it to the judge, who is always skeptical.

Testimony about specific conduct is essential.  Conclusions will never work.  Everyone contends their spouse is crazy.  Even more valuable than the client's testimony is independent evidence of conduct such as eye witnesses or the spouse's writings.  Audio or video recordings of the extreme behavior are excellent so long as they don't run afoul of any prohibitions against making the recordings. 

A history of psychiatric treatment is beneficial though, often people who need help don't seek it.  Psychiatric records are well protected but a party can always waive the protection.  The party is then faced with a grave choice, waive the record and air the issues fully and candidly, or maintain the protection and let the judge assume the worst.

When the matter involves custody or visitation, I want a psychological evaluation.  The process of establishing the sanity or insanity of the party should be about getting an objective view, not a subjective view.  Too many experts want to testify to what the paying party wants to hear.  I feel strongly that objective data is essential from an expert.  I've known experts to spin normal behavior to suit their benefactor's purposes.  I've had one psychological expert testify that he saw himself as nothing more than a Washington spin doctor.  I've even known experts to make stuff up.  I want the truth, not what an expert thinks I want to hear.  And I can trust objective data much more than subjective opinion.

Cases involving emotionally impaired spouses are the exception.  That is why so much additional work needs to go into getting the judge's attention and assistance in gathering the information necessary to establish the truth of the matter.

Bottom line: when you are trying to protect yourself and your children from an emotionally impaired spouse you need witnesses, you need evidence, you need fairly specific instances of conduct that bear out your claim before the judge will understand that your claim is something more than sour grapes or an attempt to gain an advantage. 

When you are trying to escape from an emotionally impaired spouse, you need help.

Monday, February 22, 2010

...and my children live in Canada.

What do you do when your ex, or even your ex soon to be, wants to move, and doesn't just want to move to Lilburn, but wants to move to another country?  Maybe that doesn't sound bad at all, but how about if your ex wants to take your kids?

Your first thought? "Fight for custody!"  And you'd be technically right, but infrequently, practically right.  Before you launch into such a war, you need a thorough evaluation of whether you are going to win such a war.  I'm a firm advocate of only starting fights you can finish.  I reason that you aren't much good to your kids when you're dead, and losing a custody battle can be a similar fate.

But I don't mean for tonight's entry to be about the intracacies of custody battles.  That tome can be saved for another day or series of days or even weeks.  Tonight I'm writing about your ex moving the children to foreign lands. 

Almost always when the ex says it's time to move to a foreign country, the country is not foreign to the ex.  The ex is from there.  And almost always, the American spouse knew that before the marriage.  Usually the American spouse has visited the homeplace on at least one occasion. So this announcement is seldom a surprise.

The American spouse often thinks that the foreign spouse will run off with the kids, never to be seen again.  However, that is seldom the case.  There are certainly great examples of bad moms running away to the far reaches of the Earth, but that is not the common experience.  The Hague Convention renders that option a fools choice.  Foreign parents don't get far by running home.  The foreign courts will enforce United States' Orders under the Hague Convention.  If the foreign court gets a bit sluggish, the State Department will remind them of their legal obligation.

Getting your kids home can take more time than you want it to take (doesn't almost everything?).  But when the children are shipped home, your ex is likely to only see them in extremely limited circumstances for years to come.

That's why foreign born parents rarely run.  They take the good situation they have and make it far worse. 

In this day of international travel and relocation, Courts increasingly look upon foreign relocation as they might long distance United States relocation, such as moving to Oregon or even Alaska.  Courts are not overwhelmed by the thoughts of the children living in Germany or France or Malaysia but they are interested in maintaining the relationship between the children and the non-custodial parent. 

Not only do the children come home as often as possible, the non-custodial parent develops a new holiday spot.

I don't mean to make this sound peachy.  It isn't.  But it isn't much different than your kids moving to Vermont or San Fransisco.  Moving to a different country isn't the issue.  The distance is.

I'll write more on that issue soon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Moving On

Today's entry is written by Jeremy Abernathy, an Associate with The Manely Firm, P.C.

It is mentioned quite often that humans are creatures of habit.  In this fluid world, expectancy is cherished and appreciated.  Humans seek comfort in routines and the value of predictability.

In family law, however, change is imminent.  There exists the prospect of new custodial arrangements between parents.  Potential shifts in marital assets loom ahead.  An individual, after residing in a home for several years becomes vulnerable to living at a new address.  Variations of retirement plans and goals may lie ahead.  New relationships happen.  Individuals that have been together for almost half of their lives begin courting new love interests.  Parties that have grown accustomed to hanging out at the same sports bar or “dining- out spot” may now feel compelled to go elsewhere.  New church memberships occur.  Certainly, change is intertwined with many domestic law issues.

Too often, however, change is synonymous with “loss,” when indeed, change presents the opportunity for growth.  French author, Andre Gide, commented, that “one does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time."

As lawyers for clients facing change, we must encourage them to “discover new lands.”  We must help our clients place a premium on setting new goals and facing the challenges of change head- on.  After hearings, status conferences, and mediations, our clients shake our hands, and are faced with the daunting task of putting their life on track and mapping out the direction they shall proceed in.

As their counsel, we must endeavor to empathize with our clients, and while in the fray with them, encourage them that “this moment too shall pass.”

Letting go of old ways of doing things does not involve giving involves moving on.

Jeremy J. Abernathy

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Endings

I'm in the liberation business.

In the divorce portion of my practice, people come to see me for one of two reasons.  They either want to divorce their spouse or their spouse wants to divorce them.  Either way, at the end of the process, the couple goes their seperate ways.  One of the parties has shed their spouse and the other party has been shed.

The party who sought the divorce obviously feels they are in a better place. But even the party who didn't initiate the divorce is in a better place.  I have a bias here that you are better off not being married to someone who doesn't want to be married to you.  It's painful, but I think it is self evident.  Bonnie Raitt's song, "I can't make you love me," comes to mind.

The decision to divorce and the discovery that you are being divorced is painful.  There's a lot of anguish there.  The process of divorce can also be hurtful, though good divorce lawyers try to minimize that.  The process of divorce can be a time for self discovery and reflection as you ready yourself to move into the next phase of your life.  The final product, the divorce, is a better end for both parties.  It can be bitter-sweet.  Sometimes there are moments of self doubt, wishes that things could have turned out better, but by the end of the process, usually all of that has been dealt with and the bright light at the end of what felt like a very dark tunnel is immediately before you, beckoning you on.

Maybe it seems strange to read this, but divorce is about freedom.  If you've gone through a divorce already, you know the truth of that statement.  Whether you are choosing to be free, or are being forced to become free from a spouse who no longer wants to be married to you, in the end you get your freedom.  You are either no longer burdened by a relationship you have deemed dysfunctional or even destructive or no longer burdened by someone who doesn't love you as you have a right to be loved.

When I boil it all down, it means a happy ending.  And almost always, my clients think so too.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Just Waiting to Die

In my profession I get to hear many, many very sad stories.  The one I want to talk about tonight is one of the saddest I ever heard.

A female client once told me, I've been married 26 years, and I knew in the first week that I wanted a divorce.  That floored me. 

This woman was approaching 50, now had two grown children and had been mostly miserable every one of those 26 years.  She waited until her youngest was off at college before she came to see me.  When her youngest found out about her now pending divorce he asked, "why did you wait until I was gone to get some peace in the house?"

Contrast that with another client, married five weeks.  She, too, knew in the first week that she wanted a divorce.  Her husband's antics in the remaining four only reinforced her judgment.

Five weeks versus 26 years. 

Clients will often want to revisit their history, to recover monies paid for spouse's activities such as paid off credit cards or expensive hobbies, that, hindsight being 20/20, have proven pure folly.  I always tell them the sums spent is water under the bridge.  That money is gone. 

In divorce, parties are rewarded for making a quick decision about whether they want to end or endure the misery they share with their spouse.  While arguably laudable that you stay with a spouse long after they've "flipped your switch," the law does not reimburse you for it.  Cutting your losses, whenever you've lost enough (money, time, self respect), is always the better course insofar as the law is concerned.

For years, my lengthy marriage client thought she was just waiting to die.  My short marriage client wasted no time in getting back to living. 

Where are you?

Michael Manely

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Am I Jewish, or what?"

Perhaps you've seen the news about Joseph Reyes, the Chicago divorced father who baptized his three year old daughter as Catholic. As a family law lawyer, that raises a red flag.  In a divorce, usually one parent is designated to make religious decisions for the child.

Apparently, in this case, it was the Mother.

Mom is Jewish.  At one time, Dad was apparently Catholic.  When the parties married, Dad converted to Judaism and agreed to raise the child in the Jewish tradition.  When the parties divorced, Mom received  custody of the daughter and apparently obtained the authority to make religious decisions for their daughter.

There are four categories of "major decisions" which comprise legal custody:  medical, educational, extracurricular, and religion.  These distinctions are ever evolving, as is the nature of law, as is the nature of society.  For example, the extracurricular category didn't exist 10 years ago.

In the religion category, one parent, usually the primary physical custodian, makes decisions about in which, if any, religion the child will be indoctrinated.  Even so, there is no requirement that the non-custodial parent take the child to the custodial parent's church or even to a church of the custodial parent's denomination.  There is no prohibition against the non-custodial parent taking the child to his own church on Sunday morning or Saturday afternoon or even during the Solstice.  The prohibition is against overt acts which would create identity, such as baptism.  Which is where we re-join our story.

Mr. Reyes not only took his daughter to Mass but he had her baptized Catholic, asserting, then, a Catholic identity.  Mom hit the roof and obtained a restraining order against Dad from exposing the daughter to any religion but Judaism.  Dad, not content with the negative spotlight already upon him, next notified the local television station that he was taking his daughter to Mass again, this time in living color on every Chicagoan's evening news.  Now, Dad is looking at six months in lock up for contempt.  I suspect that not only will daughter not be attending Mass in those six months, she probably won't be seeing a lot of Dad during that time, either.  And she probably still won't be seeing a lot of Dad after his release.

This case is not about religious freedom.  It is entirely possible that the Judge's Order prohibiting Dad from exposing his daughter to any religion but Judaism is unconstitutional.  But there was no emergency need to rush the daughter to Mass.  Dad did not have to violate the Judge's Order.  Dad could have revisited the Judge's Order in many ways, Appeal, Motion to Reconsider, Motion for New Trial.  And Dad could have been successful.  But Dad took daughter to Mass, in wilful contempt for the Judge's Order, with the television cameras rolling, just to make it personal for the Judge.  And I suspect he did.

This case is about power, Dad's power.  First, Dad's effort to assert power over Mom.  Now, Dad's effort to assert power over the Judge.  And truly, Dad has power over neither. 

Dad will quite possibly go to jail.  I can imagine an outcry from an ill informed religous cabal that Dad's  incarceration would be discriminatory, that he would be a martyr, but Dad was clearly in wilful contempt and jail would be appropriate.  Further, Dad will have his access to his daughter significantly curtailed.  He might be looking at supervised visits next fall, when he is released from jail. 

Finally, and this tells you a lot about the story, Dad is a law student.  Law students are supposed to show respect, not contempt for the law.  It is quite possible that Dad will not be allowed to sit for the Bar, to become a lawyer.  It is also possible that his stunt is an Honor Code violation for law students at his law school, which will result in his expulsion. 

Given the brief 15 minutes of fame that will flow from Mr. Reyes' infamy, I'm reminded of Dr. Phil's famous question, "So, Dad, how's that working out for you?"

It is certainly not working out well for his daughter.

Michael Manely

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Great Recession and the American family

I work in the core of what makes families tick, sometimes like a bomb.  Day in and day out I hear the brutally real life stories of how American families are living, are attempting to survive in this economy.  And I'm here to tell you, by and large we are not doing well.

What we hear on the news I hear in my office several times each week: "we're struggling to keep our home."  Or, "we lost our home."  Or, "we can't afford shoes for our children anymore.  Or, "the church has been helping us out with food."  And these folks, until very recently, were middle class folks, working in regular jobs, living in regular neighborhoods, sending their kids to regular schools.  But now, they are losing everything. 

And the house values have plummetted.  Borrowing against equity was probably always a bad idea, but even folks who hadn't used their homes like a piggy bank are watching their houses appraise at tens of thousands dollars less than they thought, and often tens of thousands of dollars less than they owe.  What do you do with a home that nobody wants and nobody can afford? "I don't want it, you take it," doesn't work well in mediation.

Financial stress is one of the great catalysts toward dissolving a family.  How much worse it is when the couple weren't liking each other very much even before these hard economic times?

I have heard many judges contemplate a time when divorce became so expensive and complex that couples just walked away from each other, not bothering to divorce any more.  The legislature has made getting a divorce ridiculously complicated.  Some judges have thrown up additional barriers for unknown reasons.  Legal representation can get quite expensive and the complexity of the law often makes a mockery of anyone who tries to handle it on their own.

For many people, the day when they just walk away has already come.   For some, that day came some time ago.  I often meet with people who have put off doing things officially (legally).  It's kind of like waiting for a tooth ache to get better or a breathing problem to self-resolve.  It might get better, it might resolve, but odds are, it won't.  Odds are, waiting will just make it worse.

In the practice, waiting will always make it worse because the client doesn't hire me while the times are good, only when something awful has happened, like the mother has moved away with the baby.  "But our private agreement on custody worked out so well for several years.  Now's she's in Michigan and I can't see my baby."  Or another example, "I need a divorce quick because I need to get remarried real soon."  Now it's complicated.  Now its expensive.  Before it would have been relatively simple and manageable. 

There is no great answer.  There's only the best answer.  And you can't know the answer if you don't ask.  Ask your questions.  Talk is cheap.  Not asking?  That can get costly. 

And costly doesn't help anyone in a recession.

Michael Manely

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Today's installment comes from Stephanie Steele, Senior Associate and Supervising Attorney for The Manely Firm, P.C.


I’m not referring to angels or security guards or even life insurance.

I’m referring to Guardians ad Litem.  What or who is that, you ask?

Well, I grew up watching Law and Order, Matlock and LA Law.  Before attending law school, I worked in a law office and spent hours talking to former jurors, attorneys and paralegals about how the court works and what happens during a legal case.  During law school, I studied legal procedures, poured over judicial decisions and continued working in a law office.

It wasn’t until after law school, and after my first legal job that I ever heard of the little known yet hugely important Guardian ad Litem.

Literally, it means a guardian related to the lawsuit.  Effectively, it means someone (usually an attorney) trained and appointed by a court to investigate and report to the court regarding the best interests of a minor child or children involved in a domestic law case.

The importance of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) was brought home to me once again earlier this week.  The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed a ruling by Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge George F. Hutchinson, III, in which Judge Hutchinson adopted the GAL’s report and recommendation that a father be granted primary physical custody of the parties’ three children.  Salmon-Davis v. Davis, Supreme Court of Georgia, S09F1609 (2-1-10).

In Georgia, the Uniform Superior Court Rules govern the appointment, authority and access to information of a GAL.  Although our judicial system is the best in the world, judges are not omniscient.  The GAL goes to places, talks to people and obtains information that a Judge often cannot, due to the nature of the Judge’s role in a case.

The GAL is a person who can and does speak for children who are caught between two parents who have differing views on who should have custody, the amount and nature of visitation that is appropriate and how to best ensure the children’s quality of life.

A GAL has the authority to candidly talk to teachers, relatives, doctors, friends and the children themselves regarding all aspects of the children’s home life, their relationship with each parent and what custody and visitation arrangement(s) will most benefit the children.  They formulate opinions and report to the Court on their findings, making recommendations to the Court about which parent should have primary custody, the amount and nature of visitation the non-custodial parent should have and any other special provisions the GAL thinks appropriate.

I advise my clients to welcome the Guardian into your home with open arms.  The Guardian is there to protect your children, to ensure the future healthy growth of your children and to assist in shaping a Court Order that will help to build secure, positive relationships between both parents and your children.

So, in a way, I guess I do refer to angels and security guards and life insurance when I refer to Guardians.

Stephanie L. Steele

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Combustible Pants, Act two

Just a very short piece for tonight.  It's been a long, but productive day.

I wrote earlier about a certain wayward fellow who seriously misled the Court in his pleadings.  Today was his comeuppance.

The Court ruled that this fellow defrauded the Court.  This is basically an iron clad declaration that the man is worthy of no belief.

The case is not over, just a major, major battle won in the fight to save the life of a child.

And I'm privileged to be a part of it.

Tomorrow I hope to have a special treat for you, a guest blogger.  The Firm's very own Stephanie Steele will join our page on Friday.

Michael Manely

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Sweetheart, I want a divorce."

Sonnets have been written and movies have been made over the fateful issue of how do you pop the question, the one that ends with, "will you marry me?"

But I haven't seen any treatment in prose or film that tackles the stickier subject of popping the question of divorce.  There are songs about divorce, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, by Tammy Wynette, being one of my favorites, but I can't recall any about broaching the subject, unless you count Earl by the Dixie Chicks.

I deal with this issue several times each week.  Potential clients schedule a consultation to learn about the law of divorce and how it applies to their situation.  Fairly often the subject of divorce has not been broached in a serious, "this is it," way, though perhaps it has been bandied about as an ongoing threat by one side or the other.

So how do you tell your spouse that you want out, the deal's off, you are escaping, you want your freedom, hasta la vista, baby?  (Another dark reference.)

The best practice is to plan for a time when you can have your spouse alone for at least an hour, free of interruptions.  Have your outline ready, what you need to discuss, what you need out of the divorce: custody, child support, division of assets, division of debts, separation of property, etc.  Predict your spouse's reaction.  Plan how you will manage it.  Say a prayer, light a candle or have a stiff drink, whatever helps your resolve, and dive in.

The big down side to this strategy is that if you and your spouse could speak this openly, it is far less likely you would be getting a divorce in the first place.  Still, some couples are mutually far enough along to manage a productive conversation.  In most cases, however, only one side is far enough along.  The other side seems to be trapped in a paleolithic mode.

If you are vulnerable, financially, physically, even emotionally, the best practice approach will not apply to you.  You already have experienced your spouse engaging in some form of extortion.  "If you don't do what I say, I'll hurt you (financially, physically, emotionally). "  If this is your situation, you have to plan your exit strategy without consulting your spouse because if you let him or her know about your plans, they'll make you pay for it.

If your spouse is likely to see your honesty as a weakness, giving him or her a head start on filing for divorce  and gathering evidence for court, then this best practice approach cannot apply to you either, because the conversation will not be equal and will not be productive.  Again, your spouse will make you pay.

At least half the time I recommend that my client have a generic conversation about divorce with their spouse.  Finding the right time is the key.  Some event has to be the catalyst so that divorce just comes up in the conversation.  But use that event to explore your spouse's reaction and thoughts.  Your spouse's response will speak volumes of whether you can set up the best practice meeting or whether you have to protect yourself by moving clandestinely.

Unfortunately, quite often the opposing party's conduct and attitudes requires the clandestine approach. In that case, we prepare the divorce complaint, the divorce is filed and process is served by a plain clothes process server.  The service of process is the first time the opposing party learns of the once impending, now pending divorce.  And by the time that process is served, we have constructed the protections you need.

Invariably, when process is served, the opposing party is shocked. "How could you do this to me?"  This  attitude will floor you because not only has the handwriting long been on the wall but it is written in bold, underlined and highlighted in fluorescent yellow!  Still, the opposing party pretends that the divorce is out of left field.

So how do you ask for a divorce?  Do you kill your spouse with kindness? "Sweetheart, you know I love you and think the world of you but this is just not working out for us.  I think we need permanent, separate vacations."  Or do you let your actions speak louder than your words ever could?

Bottom line?  When it gets real, get help.  Ask a professional.  That's what we're here for.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rules of Thumb (or any other digit of your choice)

Enough esoteric discourse!  How about a few pointers?

If you are planning to assert that the house should be yours, don't move out.

If you are going to argue that the children should live with you, don't leave them behind.

If your spouse tells you that he (or she) will sign over custody to you later, when you are on your feet so it's safe to sign over custody to him (or her) now, don't believe him (or her).

If you live in a nice house, drive a nice car, have a decent television set and your clothes aren't falling apart, don't expect the judge to believe that you only earned $9,000.00 last year.

If your spouse routinely has unexplained missing time, zealously guards her cell phone, has password protected email or routinely deletes her history, figure something is up.

If you have been staying at home raising the children, and the children are pretty much alright and you aren't a raging alchoholic or something equally troubling, expect that you will probably win custody of the children, no matter how much your spouse claims otherwise.

If you've been married the entire time that your spouse has been building up the 401k, figure you are going to split it and 50/50 is probably not far wrong.

Expect to never get away with child support consisting of just buying the children what they need, when they need it.

If you've taken a trip to Vegas, finished out your basement and bought a puppy, don't expect the judge to believe you when you tell him you haven't paid any child support for six months because you have no money.

If you've been cold and distant for years, perhaps sleeping in another bedroom, perhaps blatantly argumentative, perhaps taking separate vacations, don't be surprised when your spouse files for divorce.

If you haven't made a lot of time for your children while they've been growing up, don't be shocked when they choose to live with your spouse (unless they want out for the same reason you do).

And finally, if you are staying together for the kids, through the arguments, the coldness, the loneliness, know that your children might very well follow more closely in your footsteps than you would ever wish them to.

Michael Manely

Monday, February 8, 2010

"I'll never let you go." The post divorce saga.

Divorce is about cutting ties and moving on, right?

But suppose that, even though the parties are divorced, the ties don't cut and there's no moving on. There's not even moving.

We see that often, the ex-spouses who have divorced but won't, or can't, let go.  They are still almost as connected to each other as they were when they were married and their on-going relationship has not worn those years gracefully.

The destructive connections continue despite time, despite new relationships, despite new children.  Sometimes even the new spouses become enlisted in the age old struggle.  These cases arise as contempt actions, not over monies due or actions required to facilitate settlements, but over a grudge or just enduring spite.

In one case that comes to mind, the parties are still fighting over anything and everything.  At this point, their fight centers on the exchange of the children.  She won't stay indoors when he arrives.  He won't stay in his car.  The new husband won't stay out of it; he wants to push his 6'3" linebacker frame around.  The parents aren't fighting over the kids. The kids are an excuse for the parents to stay in relationship with each other.  The kids are just a convenient tool.  I can imagine how much the kids must look forward to Dad's arrival or to returning to Mom's house.  "What's in the best interest of my children?  Not right now.  Can't you see I'm having a good fight with my ex?"

Another case stems from an early 1990's divorce.  Many financial ties held the ex-spouses together, but these ties were finally wrapping up, one by one.  Just when it seemed there was nothing left to fight about,  the parties found something, a paper, a single piece of paper.  He should have given it to her.  She wanted it.  He didn't want her to have it.  It just didn't matter.  The parties couldn't say goodbye almost 20 years after their divorce.  A couple of new spouses and several new kids later, they still clung to each other.  You might call that a death grip.

You might think these people are frivolous for fighting in court, but we can probably agree that they are not ready candidates for couples therapy.  I'd be the first to say that litigation is woefully inefficent for working through these issues, but sometimes the energy of resolving the legal issues can open opportunities for self reflection, particularly if your attorney is telling you, "you don't want to go to trial over this."

How about this for a litmus test:  Can't let go?  How do you feel about reconciling?  It makes you sick?  Okay then, what are you holding on to?

Let go.

Michael Manely

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Putting your pants out.

Today, after church and the traditional lunch stop with my seven year old, I spent much of the afternoon at work, catching up and preparing for the week to come.

Finally, at about 4:00, I got away and headed home.  By the time I pulled into the driveway and got out of my car to open the garage door, it hit me: this is a great day to play outside!  So, characteristically, I grabbed a rake.

This week, the firm has several hearings and a few mediations, but we have one peculiar case, the kind that doesn't come around very often.  The case is peculiar for several reasons, but to my point tonight, this case is peculiar because of the depth and breadth of the lies the opposing party told the Court and must have told his attorney to have achieved the temporary result he accomplished before we were hired. The lies are bad enough that, once we got into the case, his counsel asked the Court for permission to withdraw representation and the Court demanded the Opposing Party appear in very short order to explain himself.

How does someone get into this mess? 

So often, litigants think they are smarter than the system.  That should be a big red flag for any self-aware person right there.  Probably no one is smarter than the system.  I've been in this business for over 20 years and I can attest that our system of litigation is exceptionally well designed to find the truth.  That doesn't mean that the truth is always found or that the lies are always caught, but savvy attorneys and savvy judges make mincemeat of pants-on-fire litigants every day. 

And what compounds the stupid decision to lie is that almost every time the harm from the truth is far less than the harm from the lie exposed. I often tell my clients, "The truth shall set you free," because it does. 

The justice system is a human system almost entirely comprised of humans.  We in the system often understand why the parties behave the way they do.  Our understanding is part of what greases the skids of family law.  It is a significant part of what makes divorce process endurable. 

Bottom line, if you did it, own it and own up to it.  It helps your case and it helps you.  If you don't set your pants ablaze in the first place, you never have to put them out.

Michael Manely

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Old School

I was at an event for Georgia State University College of Law tonight when my chief mentor in law school, Tom Jones (yes, the Tom Jones to folks who know trial law) introduced me to some attorneys as being "Old School".  Given that Tom is pretty Old School himself, I took that as a compliment.  But it got me  thinking.

Over 20 years ago, Tom trained me in some of the greatest courtrooms in this State, the old courtrooms of Fulton Superior Court, the ones with the three story ceilings.  In that hallowed space, Tom got me ready for my State Championships in 1988 and 1989.  In my years since, I've had the immense pleasure of practicing in some of these grand courtrooms, in Fulton County, the old courthouse in Cherokee County, the immense space of Carroll County's Courtroom, and even the fantastic space of the old Bartow County Superior Court Courtroom.  The theater of those old spaces calls up the excellence in every trial lawyer.  You have to be great in such great space.  Every trial attorney ought to cut their teeth in space like that.  I think that's what Tom meant by "Old School," bringing it home, Clarence Darrow style.   

And if I'm right about what Tom meant, then I guess I am "Old School."  I love the Courtroom.  I love the theater of the Courtroom, the drama, the art, staying on your toes and several steps ahead of the opposition, crafting the perfect cross to force the witnesses to finally break down in a tearful, "Yes, it's true!"

And there's the rub.  As I wrote last night, family law, divorce, etc., is not done well when it is about drama, when it is about vanquishing the opposition.  It's best done out of the Courtroom whenever possible.  Yet I love the Courtroom.

But the bottom line is, my cases are always my client's cases.  It's not my opportunity to play.  It's my opportunity to help.  And may I never loose sight of that. 

As I tell folks though, sometimes, after trying with all my might to help the other side see the merit in mutually arriving at justice, they still won't.  The opposition still wants to fight nasty.  Well, I can handle that too.  And I can handle it then with a clear conscience, Clarence Darrow style. 

Attorneys are very focused on professionalism, rightfully so.  And I think that's what professionalism is somewhat about: working out the problems whenever you can; and when you can't, bring on the big guns.  I think that might be "Old School." 

Thank you, Tom.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

There's a right way, and there's a wrong way...

There's a right way to do family law and there's a wrong way to do family law.

One of my favorite judges told the assembled at a calendar call, that a family law lawyer could probably tell the parties how a judge would rule 95% of the time because the family law lawyer already knows the judge, the law and the best outcome.

Sometimes I'm in trial, having told opposing counsel exactly how the case was going to turn out, and opposing counsel, not practicing family law exclusively, is sure his client will fare far better than he should.  At the end of the trial, the judge makes her ruling spot on with my prediction.  Such a waste of time.  Such a waste of money.  Such a meaningless manufacture of additional heartache for the parties.

As I said, there's a right way and a wrong way to do family law.

The wrong way is for the attorney to pretend the court room is a combat zone, winner take all, where the opposing party is always scum and the client is as pure as the driven snow.  The truth is, we are all people.  No one is perfect.  No one is blameless.  That doesn't mean that there aren't real problems that have to be sorted out, worked through, and real solutions that have to be sought, found and enacted. 

But war?  The family law legal process, whether it is divorce, contempt or modification, is not suited to war.  War is a distraction.  The judges feel very strongly about this.  War is a waste of precious judicial resources, a waste of time.  Family law lawyers are good when they can identify the real issues, get quickly to the point, argue their positions without further inflaming the parties, and achieve a truly just result.

The right way to do family law, then, is to care about the family, to seek justice, not annihilation, to cut to the heart of the matter and to expeditiously (as expeditiously as circumstances and the other side will allow) arrive at the right result that helps, not hurts, the client and the larger family move through this transition into the rest of their lives.

I like the right way.

Michael Manely

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I've been thinking about reconciliation lately.  I guess that's because I've observed several recent efforts up close and personal, as is the gift of my profession.  Almost everyone attempts to reconcile at some point or another.  Most clients have attempted some form of reconciliation before they come to see me.  They've made up with their spouses, usually far more than once.

Sometimes the couple attempts to reconcile after the divorce is filed.  It's as though the filing the divorce serves as a wake up call to the other party.  Sometimes the parties are able to identify the steps they will take to determine whether they can reconcile and, after a pre-determined time, the specified steps have either worked or they haven't.

Sometimes, the effort to reconcile is just a ruse, an attempt to regain an advantage.  It's a cynical ploy.  Usually a couple of simple tests will bear out the genuineness of a requested reconcilliation.

For all the efforts to reconcile, successful and not, probably the best litmus test of the requestor's veracity is whether the requestor imposes rules on the reconciliation.  For example, the wife files for divorce, the husband begs to reconcile but requires that he live at home while the parties attempt to reconcile.  Logic and love suggest that if the wife feels she wants a divorce, but is willing to contemplate a reconciliation, she needs her space to figure work through the issues, not her husband's continued presence.  It is possible that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  It is guaranteed that absence makes the heart grow certain.

A recent client  interview brought out all of the requestor's reasons for reconciliation: the in-laws disapprove, the requestor has no one else to take care of him, the requestor can't sleep at night.  Nowhere in the litany of reasons to reconcile was, "but, I love him."  Nothing even close.

I don't think marriage is a charity case.  I don't think marriage is all about self-sacrifice, though there is a fair amount of shared sacrifice.  (The emphasis there is on "shared".)  I don't think marriage is like the last year of college where you just tough it out.  There is no graduation day here.

This is about life.  This is about love.  This is about knowing when to end the suffering and when to begin to start anew.

Michael Manely

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ah, Lawrenceville

I have been trying cases in Lawrenceville now for over 20 years, literally since before I became an attorney.  My last year of law school at GSU, the Georgia Mock Trial Competition was held at the brand new Courthouse in Lawrenceville.  And I believe it has been held at the Gwinnett County Courthouse  from then on.  My team won first in the State, back in 1989, and Lawrenceville has been very kind to me ever since.

We opened our office in Lawrenceville in March, 2009.  While I've always had the good fortune to work extensively in Gwinnett Superior Court over the years, it seems as if the flood gates opened.  Many clients were pleased to find an all family law firm in Lawrenceville.  Family law is very complicated and intricate.  It is neither a practice for the faint of heart nor the part timers who dabble in other areas as well.

We couldn't ask for better Judges than in Gwinnett.  I find them all to be reasonable, rational, direct and well suited to their post.  I'd have to say I particularly prefer Judge Jackson because I have practiced in front of him for many, many years and he has taught me much. 

Our building is nestled in the woods, in a little two story house.  It is the last building you see before you enter the Courthouse parking lot.  It is the only house anywhere around.  It is surrounded by tall poplars and sweetgums.  I couldn't ask for a better location or better space in which to practice our art.

Even if you aren't in need of a family law lawyer right now, stop in and visit with us.  Great things are happening in Gwinnett!

Michael Manely